These gorgeous photos are a love letter to Earth


Ask photojournalists to name a peer they admire, and Sebastião Salgado’s name is sure to crop up. The Brazilian is renowned for the long-term projects he undertakes, devoting years at a time to documenting the story of a particular people or the evolution of a certain place. As he describes in the talk he gave at TED2013, his attention to detail and his personal attachment to his subjects caused health problems that nearly killed him.

Thankfully, he didn’t give up. His most recent project is Genesis, which he describes as “my love letter to the planet” and for which he spent eight years traveling the world to photograph humans, animals and nature in their native glory. (To read more details about Salgado’s process, see this rather lovely Q&A with TED photographer Ryan Lash.) The resulting black-and-white images include the astonishing shot, above, of a Southern right whale, which he photographed in the Valdés Peninsula in Argentina in 2004. Together, the series forms the focus of a book (including a vast, two-volume edition that costs $9,000 and comes complete with a wooden stand designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando; mere mortals can pick up a hardcover version for $69.99). There’s also a documentary, Shade and Light, filmed by Salgado’s son and Wim Wenders, and exhibitions in cities around the world.

The scale is appropriate. This is truly breathtaking work. And, for all that the scenes Salgado captures will likely feel alien to most of us, the images are imbued with no less than the spirit of humanity. If that sounds overblown, seriously, check these out:


The Nenet people, living deep within the Yamal peninsula in Siberia, inside the Arctic Circle. (2011.)


Light streams across an elephant disappearing into the bush. Kafue National Park, Zambia. (2010.)


Shot from Navajo Native American territory, this breathtaking image captures the junction of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, at the gateway to the Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona in the United States. (2010.)


Look, ma! No hands! Salgado photographed these chinstrap penguins on icebergs between the Zavodovski and Visokoi islands in the South Sandwich Islands, near Antarctica. (2009.)


Women of the Zo’é village of Towari Ypy in Brazil. (2009.)


Teureum is the leader of the Mentawai clan, which lives on Siberut Island in West Sumatra. The shaman is preparing a filter for sago. (2008.)


Waura Indians fish in the Puilanga Lake near their village in the Upper Xingu region of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state. (2005.) 


An iceberg photographed on the Antarctic Peninsula. Note the “castle tower,” at top right, apparently carved in the ice by wind erosion. (2005.)


The vast tail of a Southern right whale, photographed near Argentina. (2004.)


Helen Walters is the editorial director at TED. She writes about interesting people and what keeps them up at night. This piece was adapted for TED-Ed from this Ideas article.